Editorial: North Haven rabbit situation sheds light on law interpretation
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 16, 2012 21:09
The Lidsky family of North Haven, CT owns a large rabbit named Sandy. So large, in fact, that the town threatened in August to take the 20-pound pet from its seven-year-old owner because of a law that requires livestock to be kept only on plots of land measuring two acres or more. The idea of seizing a beloved pet from a young girl was not received well in the media and on the Internet,– an online petition was signed by nearly 5,000 people – and soon afterward the town bowed to public pressure. The town has agreed to rewrite the decades-old zoning regulations originally implemented when North Haven was primarily an agricultural community – though the Lidskys will have to improve the maintenance of their property so as not to become a blight on the neighborhood.
The zoning law itself is not an irrational one – few people would wish their suburban neighbors to be keeping cattle or pigs on a tiny plot in their backyard. That a municipality should be able to restrict property use to improve the living environment of a community is incontrovertible. What rankled so many, though, was the law’s interpretation and application: considering Sandy the rabbit, despite its size, to be livestock requires a significant stretch of the imagination. The seven-year old’s father, Josh Lidsky said in a CBS New York article, “I think the town finally realized that there are laws and situations, some of the situations are just outdated and not up to date with current times”. Even if a law seems to be sensible on its face, its interpretation can render it an obstruction, as we have seen in North Haven, to a young girl’s happiness.
The distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law is an important one, and ought never to be overlooked. A society that insists upon an obsessively exact interpretation of a law and interprets it accordingly often gets in the way of those who do good for its people. In Hartford, for example, a charity serving free meals to the poor in Bushnell Park was nearly shut down for serving food without a restaurant’s license or a food safety inspection. The rule of law in America is treasured, and rightfully so. But it should not repress the spontaneous and improvisational actions of those who do good, nor those who do no harm to others.